Celibate in the City

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As the debate over the definition of marriage has raged on in this country for years, for many of the 96 million single Americans a different marriage question has been on their minds. Historically, the question for them is not, “what is marriage?” but “will I get married?”

But today, surprisingly, fewer of them are still asking that question. In a startling study from the Pew Research Center, among all singles, “just 16 percent say they are currently looking for a romantic partner.” Even taking the divorced, the widowed, and those currently in committed relationships into account, that percentage is surprisingly small. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the number is not much higher, just 22 percent. Statistics like these are not welcome news for those single people looking for a husband or wife.

Connally Gilliam, one of the many thirty-somethings in America who would classify themselves as “unintentionally single,” comments on what it’s like to grow up in a world so vastly different from her mother’s and grandmother’s—a world in which early marriage and child-rearing was the norm.

Gilliam writes: “My mother said once in a moment of candor, ‘I feel as if I’ve enriched you for a world that no longer trades in our currency.’ A treasure chest of Confederate cash, you might say. She was, at least in part right.” Gilliam continues, “While I still know how to grow tomatoes and make vegetable soup from scratch—and do—the wildly shifting culture has a gravitational pull that I’ve not been able to control. The seesaw has tilted,” she writes, “and the bottom line is that, try as I might, I haven’t been able to find my way back home, at least to the home of my mothers.”

Gilliam’s humorous and honest book Revelations of a Single Woman offers a voice that is sometimes lacking in the Church: a voice of compassion for the millions of men and women who are finding themselves empty-handed when they had at least expected a pair, if not a full house, by this point in their lives.

Lauren Winner, another bright young writer, tackles similar subjects in her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Winner writes about what singleness can teach the Church. We often hear how marriage is a picture of Christ and His Church. Winner says singleness reminds us of another picture, what she calls “a vacancy for God.” Winner writes, “Unmarried people are asked to specialize in creating an emptiness for God, an emptiness that everyone, single or married, needs to maintain . . . In singleness we see not only where our true dependence lies, but also who and what our real family is. Singleness,” she says, “reminds Christians that the Church is our primary family.”

Cultural trends like urbanization, increased mobility, divorce, and the sexual revolution leave our sons and daughters navigating in unfamiliar waters. I’m grateful that there are voices like Gilliam and Winner to help bring a biblical perspective to the kinds of experiences that this generation is facing that their parents did not have to face. And these kinds of voices help prepare those of us in the Church, lay people and clergy alike, to minister effectively to those singles in our midst.

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From BreakPoint®, July 24, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.